Tag Archives: opinion

Still dreaming big dreams for Birmingham in 2021

UPDATE: Birmingham was awarded the 2021 World Games on January 22, 2015.

rickwoodjune2014“You know, baseball isn’t an Olympic sport for 2020.”

I smirked as I said this during a chance encounter with David Brewer, executive director of the Friends of Rickwood Field, as we stood looking out at home plate in America’s oldest ballpark late Monday morning.

He laughed and said, “You know, you’re right,” as he returned to the never ending list of to-dos associated with his job, leaving me to think. I often find myself there in the historic structure on the city’s west side sitting in the general admission seats (or the first base dugout) in order to escape and think. This time, I tried to calm my mind to tackle some brainstorming but ended up dreaming big dreams. (It’s a bad habit of mine.) I thought of what it would be like to sit in the stands at Rickwood Field and Regions Field surrounded by others from around the world in 2021. It would take the International Baseball Federation successfully campaigning the International World Games Association to be added as a sport or a request of the city’s organizing committee, but there’s a chance…

IWGA logoNo, I’m not insane. Word of the city’s intention to submit a bid to host the 11th World Games in 2021 spread like wildfire on Sunday morning. People were still taking a breath from hearing of its bid to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention on Friday. These are noticeably bold moves in the midst of evidence of the city’s long-sought renaissance finally taking shape. I brought up during a quick exchange via Twitter that the potential resulting benefits and impact sound similar to those previously floated by a certain former mayor. The response: “Same thinking, but more realistic.” Hindsight is always 20/20 though and I’ve got a feeling historians will look at both situations as examples of the city taking a risk.

That said, this current proposal is a little easier to swallow for folks and easier to celebrate if successful (especially since it would be during Birmingham’s 150th birthday, but I digress). While the World Games started as a way to focus more on the athletes and less on keeping score among nations, they have come to be as significant in meaning to the host city as a successful Olympic bid without nearly the same level of expense.

Why? Here it is, courtesy of the bid packet:

In fact, the Rules of The World Games stipulate that the games must be staged at existing venues, or at venues that have been planned and built regardless of the bid for TWG.

This means that while the multi-purpose facility (a.k.a. the Dome) is probably going to happen, it’s not affecting this bid one way or the other. That can be also read as it doesn’t necessarily mean facilities can’t be renovated or modernized in order to accommodate events. This suddenly makes things like seeing a City Council agenda item for a feasibility study of Legion Field earlier this year more understandable (especially when coupled with the mayor’s comments during this year’s State of the City address).

This is a city that needs an excuse to light a fire under itself to get something accomplished. It also needs reassurances from outsiders. This would seem to accomplish both while, as said elsewhere previously, leaving the city in a better place if the bid proves unsuccessful.

The DNC bid was due last Friday, June 6 (and some have already written about its potential for success, including this piece on June 9 by Cliff Sims at Yellowhammer News and this one published on June 8 by Chuck Dean of al.com/Alabama Media Group). The World Games bid is due on July 31. Once it’s arrived in Colorado, the hard part begins. We have to keep dreaming big dreams and acting on them.

After watching this recap video from the 2013 World Games in Cali, Colombia (or photos like this one from its closing ceremonies), I’m thinking it shouldn’t be too hard to do.

BTW – it should be noted that American football was chosen as one of the invitational sports for the 2017 World Games in Wroclaw, Poland. Just saying…

André Natta is the stationmaster for bhamterminal.com.

Reading into the Alabama Media Group plans (a lot)

The old and new Birmingham News headquarters. Bob Farley/f8photo.There’s been something nagging at me for a while now about the impending changes scheduled for the three Advance Publications titles based in Alabama (including Birmingham’s newspaper of record). You may have heard something about it.

It finally clicked in my head late last night, essentially changing the focus of what I thought had been a pretty solid piece about my thoughts regarding the reduction of The Birmingham News‘ print schedule. I’ll apologize if what follows seems a bit dry. I promise if you follow along, the potential outcomes (even if currently unlikely) become very interesting.

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around exactly what these changes would mean locally – and not just from the perspective of layoffs and the resulting competition. I kept trying to figure out some other potential results of the shift in focus. The News will still be the go to source for legal notices; their maintaining a print schedule allows them to meet the requirements for the state’s revised legal notices law; it passed back in March (after being introduced in February) and was explained (for the benefit of Alabama Press Association members) in a video later on during the session. The new rules took effect on June 1. By the way, the revised law does not seem to be easily interpreted for online-only publications at this time. Final passage appears to be a compromise for those organizations looking to go online only and those still wanting the notices to appear in the paper.

The new media organization will also be able to maintain its full APA active membership since it will meet their criteria:

…bona-fide newspapers of general circulation that are issued daily, weekly, semi-weekly or tri-weekly in Alabama…Bona-fide newspapers are those which have held a second-class mailing permit for one year and are published for the dissemination of news of general interest,” according to APA bylaws. Active membership is a voting membership. Dues are determined by paid circulation, as shown on the annually published postal statement of ownership.

What The News will not be is a daily newspaper. You may be laughing right now saying, “Of course not, silly André. They’ll only be printing three days a week.” Funny you should bring that up; current FCC regulations define a daily newspaper as any publication printing four or more days a week. Yeah, that was a nice tidbit of information to learn. This becomes important since it means that the new Alabama Media Group could be allowed to be bought by a local television station down the road and not be in violation of current rules prohibiting a daily newspaper and a local television station having the same owner – rules that are currently scheduled to be kept in place when they’re up for review.

It becomes even better when you think of it in another way – this new organization could buy or launch a television station of its own if it wanted to and not have to worry about FCC regulations. Those broadcast geeks reading – the exemption being considered only applies as a blanket approach to the top 20 designated market areas, or DMAs, in the country; we’re #40. Considering the possibilities that exist now thanks to the available digital television spectrum, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched of an idea. While the antennas may need to remain atop Red Mountain, the studio wouldn’t, leading to a creative spin on the efforts undertaken in Michigan earlier this year – one making the stories and information available as more than just another digital voice. It’s probably why I don’t see them using any of their existing properties if they don’t stay in the building on 22nd St. & 4th Ave. N. and probably going to Southside.

This all only makes sense to me because I’ve heard several people refer to The Birmingham News in recent months as a multimedia company – one that could turn to streaming or digital video and audio to augment its print and online written product. If it wasn’t already in their minds before –  “You’re welcome.”

It wouldn’t quite be a return to the days of the media powerhouses of more than thirty years ago and the fear of lack of diversity of voices associated with it. This is partially because of things like WordPress and Twitter making sites like this one possible. It still wouldn’t lessen the blow of print reduction though and it wouldn’t necessarily guarantee it was reaching more people – things I still believe are possible unfortunately – at least in the short term.

It is something that could potentially diversify revenue streams – since at the end of the day, journalists have to eat. Even if none of it comes to be, you’ve now been given a glimpse into the mind of one of the folks trying to figure out how this new age of journalism will work.

There’s one last side note I’d like the folks up in my hometown to consider as they prepare to have their teams in Alabama and New Orleans undertake this new approach. The Newhouse Foundation is an extremely valuable part of the journalism ecosystem – particularly in the northeastern United States. The philanthropic organization provides scholarships to those studying journalism and is a major supporter of Syracuse’s school of public communications. While it is not part of the company per se, it would be nice for it to consider stepping outside of its unwritten rules (as it has on other occasions for extremely worthwhile causes) and making contributions to efforts that ensure the passage of information from journalists to those who starve for it. It’s not like there’s currently enough adequate Internet coverage.

Perhaps a significant gift to our city’s financially strapped library system would be a great place to start. This would help provide venues for Internet access to those who don’t have it at home and space for community gatherings with all of those “one man bands” that are about to be unleashed into these communities.

I’m constantly told I’m an optimistic person when it comes to the future of Birmingham. That optimism can only be spread if it is easier to share the information needed to have critical discussions about what’s going on in the city. As much as I’m not a big fan of the changes and worry about the future employment of people who I respect dearly, I’m also watching (and hoping) to see if one of those voices responsible for shaping that conversation can survive and endure as we move forward.

André Natta is the station master for bhamterminal.com.

Photo: The old and new Birmingham News headquarters, 2009. Bob Farley/f8photo.

Time for a “Green Out” on Saturday?

UAB Blazers logoThere have been protests, tweets and columns all written about the recent decision by the University of Alabama Board of Trustees’ decision to not include discussion about a proposed football stadium for the UAB Blazers as part of the agenda for their upcoming meeting.

I’ve got a better idea – why not pack out Legion Field on Saturday night as the first step at showing the trustees that there is Blazer pride for more than basketball in Birmingham, AL? Incidentally, I’d be curious to know how many tickets are sold for Saturday’s game compared to how many folks will be at Bartow this evening for the preseason opener against Florida Tech (starting at 8 PM CT)…

A crowd of more than 32,000 would be a much louder message than having 100+ fans protesting the trustees meeting. It would be one that locals would have to pay attention to as well – especially considering all of the attention being shown to the game of the century happening about an hour down the road Saturday evening between the Crimson Tide and the LSU Tigers (at the same time no less).

There will be 101,000 fans in Bryant-Denny and countless more milling about outside. Wouldn’t it be nice to see the Old Gray Lady looking a little more like herself on Saturday, almost in a way defying the belief that the state of Alabama can’t support three large crowds in one day. It’d also be interesting since all of UAB’s top 10 attendance totals at Legion Field are before 2006. Granted, there hasn’t been a winning season since 2004 (and they haven’t finished higher than fourth in their Conference USA division since then either).

Those facts make it tough to not understand why the trustees didn’t necessarily vote the Blazers’ way. The largest crowd in Blazer football history – 44,669 – showed up primarily to see Ruben Studdard perform back in 2003, though the Blazers did put on a show, barely losing to Southern Miss by a score of 12-17. No doubt many of them wanted to try to score tickets to the Velvet Teddy Bear’s concert the next night at the BJCC. The closest they came to that total again that season was for homecoming against Army, with a gathered crowd of 22,020.

Some folks would argue that the home field should be closer to UAB’s campus. A quick drive down Graymont Avenue towards their current home reminds you of just how close it is to campus (though not as close as most supporters of the new stadium would want) and how powerful the experience could be if some folks felt like investing in redevelopment along the street – not just for UAB fans approaching from campus, area interstates and Highway 280, but also for those attending other sporting events like the Magic City Classic and the SWAC Championship among other things.

A UAB campus creeping ever so closer towards Birmingham’s Entrepreneurial district would make it easier to do those types of projects and help accelerate many of the long held dreams for that part of the city, though probably not soon enough for those who want to see something happen as soon as possible.

That said, Legion Field has issues and they’re more than enough to justify wanting a new home or a commitment of some sort towards a significant renovation – something not necessarily in the immediate future during these difficult economic times.

A new stadium would have humble beginnings if built, especially considering it’d be a little larger than Legion Field was when it was first constructed in 1926 (it originally held 21,000). Perhaps playing in cozier quarters would help gain some additional fan support. That would be something difficult to come by considering the large contingents of Alabama and Auburn fans in the metro area.

If success – on the field and in the box office – followed though it wouldn’t stay cozy for long. That’s one reason why suggestions to make changes to the proposed plan for a baseball-only stadium adjacent to Railroad Park accommodate the Blazers seem a little far-fetched. The Barons already play in the largest home field in the Southern League (10,800); any future expansion necessary to suit the needs of the Blazers would force them to be looking for a new home a lot faster. Considering the Barons would still be the primary tenant of such a facility (six month baseball season vs. 2½ month football season), I don’t see that ending well for the Blazers long term either.

Which takes us back to Saturday…

It’d be a powerful message to the team and the trustees – and one that would do more to move forward efforts for a new home in the long term – if they saw a sea of green and gold at Legion Field on Saturday night. A crowd somewhere around 40,000 wouldn’t hurt either. You’ll still get to see a BCS team play too – and it may not be on television locally.

There’s still time to trade in your tickets to the game of the century in Tuscaloosa for a ticket to Legion Field. I’ve got a feeling this one may also mean more in the future – for the team and the city – than the hotel rooms occupied for the showdown an hour south.

What do you think? Share your thoughts below…

André Natta is The Terminal’s stationmaster.

Assuming great things for Fleming, ONB

David Fleming in North Birmingham, October 2010. acnatta/bhamterminal.comThe first time I met David Fleming, I was sitting across the table from him for about an hour on the tenth floor of Two North Twentieth interviewing for the job that would eventually bring me to Birmingham. I spent most of that time wondering just what this guy thought of this kid from The Bronx living in Savannah, GA who was crazy enough to want to work for his new nonprofit start-up.

A month later, we hustled into the conference room at the Young & Vann Building downtown as the city’s Design Review Committee meeting started – beginning a 2 ½ year working relationship as his first hire for Main Street Birmingham (MSB).

I learned a lot while there and had a lot of fun too. We agreed about what needed to be done more often than not; it was often when it came to what we knew we could actually get away with where we’d often differ. The fact I was able to openly disagree with my boss – at least behind closed doors – was something I was extremely grateful for. I was also thankful for the chance to work for someone who truly loved his hometown and wanted to do right by it – a passion that still influences how I approach this website long after my resignation from MSB to launch it in 2007.

When news of Michael Calvert’s retirement and the resulting search for a new president and CEO of Operation New Birmingham (ONB) became public, a part of me just knew David would apply for the job. He did, and earlier today I learned along with everyone else that he’d been offered and accepted the position – effective November 1.

It’s a big day for the future of the city of Birmingham – or at least it is to me. I believe the ONB board sent a clear signal with this decision – one that suggests they value the importance of small business development as a significant part of the revitalization of the city center. It also suggests that while they may recognize Fleming’s familiarity with how things have been done during his previous tour of duty with ONB, they’re willing to listen to someone who may have ideas about how to tweak some of those policies and procedures to better serve small businesses and grow the residential community – both vital to realizing the hopes of many not just in the central business district but the greater downtown area.

These are assumptions – and David’s favorite reminder to me was “never assume.” The thought of just what could happen if some of those changes that could be made to make ONB more effective were applied to MSB initiatives makes me want to assume the best though – for David and the city he enabled me to move to more than seven years ago.

Waiting to see if some of those assumptions become reality will be the hard part…

André Natta is bhamterminal.com‘s stationmaster. He served as senior coordinator for Main Street Birmingham from September 2004 until March 2007.

Photo: David Fleming at North Birmingham ecoscape dedication, October 2010 via archive.

Don’t stay silent

Some folks may be wondering why I’d be writing as part of a blog-a-thon about domestic violence. Those who’ve followed the history of bhamterminal.com may not be wondering as much, though they may not know why…

There are several reasons. The one I feel most comfortable talking about involves my next door neighbors for the better part of four years back in Savannah, GA (that is despite the fact that I moved six – yes, six – times during those eleven years in The Hostess City).

When I first moved into the house in the ciy’s Twickenham neighborhood, I lived on the ground floor, sharing a fence with a one-level home shared by two couples. Both couples were fairly friendly (and loud), but the one that lived closer to the fence proved to be the one that provided a bigger challenge for me.

Several nights I woke up to the sounds of screaming and other uncomfortable sounds coming from the structure next door. There would be some mornings when I would see the wife with bruises on her arms and face. I’d get a barely unnoticeable smile early on from her as I would head for my car for trips into downtown for class or work. All of us who lived around the house knew what was happening, though few of us wanted to get involved in the situation – and all of us stayed silent for months.

The noises finally got to me one evening, as I opened the door and yelled in the general direction of the house, basically saying (with much more vivid language) that I was tired of the fighting. My girlfriend at the time was wondering why I was trying to interject myself. The husband came out the door, drunk and cursing up a storm. He just looked over again as I asked why the hell all of this was going on. He looked over and went back inside.

I didn’t really know what would happen next. Part of the issue for me has been that even though you know what’s going on, you’re not really sure about how to go about starting to provide the help that is needed or even if you should say anything.

I do know that she moved first, though I have no idea where she moved to. I also don’t know if she ever got the assistance and attention that she needed and deserved. After that experience, I figured out that I wanted to make sure that I would talk up and help out whenever the opportunities presented themselves.

What have the results been? Well, I’ve taken part in road races to raise funds for agencies that provide support and assistance to victims of domestic violence. The launch party event for bhamterminal.com included a collection of cell phones for Verizon Wireless’ HopeLine initiative – one that I hope folks continue to think of whenever they’re thinking of changing out cell phones and one initiative that we’re looking at doing again soon. Then there’s today…

Today, I’m asking you to take a moment and make sure that folks are aware of the Voices Against Violence program of The Women’s Fund of Birmingham and that you’ll consider making a donation to the cause. We need to be able to break the cycle. The organization received the Critical Impact Award from the Council of Foundations earlier today for the program and we need to make more folks aware of what’s going on.

Thanks in advance.

André Natta is the stationmaster of bhamterminal.com.

Popularity or purpose?

Today people will visit the polls throughout Birmingham, AL to determine whether or not nine individuals that currently serve us as city councilors should be re-elected for another term or if new leaders are required. As reported yesterday on WBHM, it can be a little confusing when you see so many different signs lining the streets… but should that be the only measure of a candidate?

There has been extensive coverage of all of the candidates from numerous mainstream and alternative outlets. We’ve even had folks tell us we should or should not vote for. The idea of letting someone else decide for me seems a little insane, especially if all you’re going to do later on is complain about how it wasn’t your choice. Being the type of city that we are, while we may not know about a candidate’s position, we’re ready to have an excuse to party so we can start preparing for four years from now.

While bhamterminal.com probably did not help you decide who you need to vote for (as it’s never been our policy, despite some thinking and hoping otherwise), wouldn’t it make more sense to stop for a moment and decide whether or not you’re going to vote for a candidate because of what they believe and what you think they can do instead of whether or not you know them or just because you know their name? Can they speak on an issue that you believe in passionately or do they get confused between green building and green grocers? Do they try to ride one project to a re-election or do they give you new ideas about how their city can change for the better and what they’re willing to advocate for to help it get there?

Every election is described as the most important one ever, regardless of where you live and what’s at stake. I’d challenge you to watch or listen to today’s City Council meeting (or check it out later after it’s been archived). I’d challenge you do check out what you don’t like about any issues and think about just how it could be changed. When the polls close this evening at 7 p.m., I’d hope that a quick look at who currently represents you and their opponents just may move you to head to the polls.

Is it really about how many signs you have up along the streets, the number of folks who know your name or the capability of representing a city that desperately needs to lose its apathetic attitude when it comes to matters of importance or its future? Today will be yet another chapter in Birmingham’s search to find out which one they are more comfortable with.

André Natta is the stationmaster for bhamterminal.com.

Where is the ethical line nowadays?

This post has nothing to do with the current state of our public officials here in Birmingham or the standards that we may be unrealistically attempting to hold them up to (at least, not yet).

It begins as a response to an ever growing debate on the blogosphere and the newsrooms, both physical and virtual, about what it is that the people want and if we as bloggers and mainstream media should give it to them.

The decision by TechCrunch to publish some of the documents that were stolen from Twitter has led some to want to cast stones about where “the line” is that should not be crossed.

Personally, I’m not quite sure that the line’s moved from where it was; I think we’ve just chosen to ignore it more often.

I do feel that we’ve become more accustomed to getting whatever we want whenever we want. This leads to voices becoming lost in the digital wilderness of finger pointing and innuendo. It is also not limited to the digitial world as we become frustrated with terrestrial radio stations and political representation – despite the fact that our choices have helped lead to what we’ve received, whether intentionally or not.

No one is immune from this, but it is possible to tone down the rhetoric just a little and see if we can’t get folks to think of solutions instead of dwelling on the doom and gloom.

Andrew Keen’s column in today’s Daily Telegraph about the situation, published while most of the metro Birmingham area was asleep in bed but just as our morning anchors started their days, said as much. According to a Tweet he sent out around 3 a.m., it cost him just a couple hundred followers. I’ll be interested in seeing what my comments cost me.

Continue reading